William B. Travis

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William B. Travis
William B. Travis by Wiley Martin.JPG
William B. Travis. This sketch by Wyly Martin is the only known likeness of Travis drawn during his lifetime, although its accuracy has been questioned.[1]
Birth name William Barret Travis
Nickname(s) Buck[2]
Born (1809-08-01)August 1, 1809
Saluda County, South Carolina
Died March 6, 1836(1836-03-06) (aged 26)
The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Allegiance  United States
 Republic of Texas
Service/branch Republic of Texas Texas Army
Years of service 1835–1836
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Commands held The Alamo
Battles/wars

Texas Revolution

William B Travis signature.svg
Signature of William B. Travis

William Barret Travis (August 1, 1809 – March 6, 1836) was a 19th-century American lawyer and soldier. At the age of 26, he was a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army. He died at the Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution.

Early life[edit]

Ancestry, early years, and education[edit]

Travis's grandfather, Berwick Travis, came to the British Colonies of North America at the age of 12, being stuck in indentured servitude for more than a decade. A descendant of the Travers of Tulketh Castle in Preston, England, Berwick had a life that hardly resembled his ancestor's glory. After working his period of servitude, he traveled south to the colony of South Carolina, where he received a grant of over 100 acres of land in present day Saluda County, South Carolina.[3] A year later he married Anne Smallwood, and the couple lived out their lives there. They had seven children (four daughters and three sons), including Mark Travis and the Baptist missionary Alexander Travis.

Mark Travis married Jemima Stallworth on June 1, 1808,[4] and she gave birth to William Barret Travis on August 1, 1809. Records differ as to whether his date of birth was the first or ninth of August, but his youngest brother James C. Travis, who was in possession of the Travis family Bible at the time of his statement, indicated that William was born on the first. Mark and Jemima had nine other children over the next twenty years.

Travis's uncle Alexander migrated to the new territory of Alabama following the War of 1812, settling in modern day Conecuh County. He urged his brother and family to come join him, as the land was cheap and easy to receive. Mark took his family, including young William, then age 9, to Alabama. They settled in the newly forming town of Sparta, where Mark Travis purchased the very first certificate from the Sparta Land.[5] Young Travis grew up here. While his father tended to the farming, his uncle Alexander became prominent in the town, organizing the Old Beulah Church (among other churches), preaching in neighboring counties and in nearby Evergreen, Alabama, leaving a strong influence on Travis.[6]

During this same time Alexander founded the Sparta Academy and served as superintendent. Travis received his first formal education at Sparta, studying subjects ranging from Greek and Latin to history and mathematics. After a few years, Travis moved to the academy of Professor William H. McCurdy in Claiborne, Alabama.

After completing his education at the age of 18, Travis gained a position as an assistant teacher in Monroe County, a position he held for less than a year.[7] He met a student, Rosanna Cato, whom he immediately felt an attraction to and began a romantic relationship with.[8]

Life in Claiborne, ensuing debt and troubles[edit]

Eager to get away from farm life, Travis made his move to Claiborne permanent and began studying law. Famed lawyer James Dellet accepted Travis as his apprentice.[9] At the time, Claiborne was a major city in Alabama set right along the Alabama River, where trade and social life seemed miles ahead of the still-growing community of Sparta.

Mounting debt and failure[edit]

Travis and Cato married on October 26, 1828. Cato gave birth to their first son, Charlie, a year later, though there is evidence to support Charlie was born out of wedlock or possibly even a year beforehand. [10]

While still studying law under Dellet, Travis was eager to begin his career and join the high ranks of Claiborne society. Travis started a newspaper, the Claiborne Herald, which like many other newspapers of the day, published stories ranging from activities in Congress to stories of adventures across the world, local notices, advertisements and more. Travis essentially operated the newspaper himself, and while it provided a modest income during the first few months of operation, it was hardly enough to support himself, Rosanna and young Charlie. The financial stress led to carelessness at the "Herald", where advertisements were accidentally printed upside down and the type wasn't set properly in the printing press, letting words fall out of line. Advertisements that had expired were still being published. He struggled to continue the paper, and though he asked for help,[11] he received none.

The home of Travis and Rosanna, relocated to Perdue Hill, Alabama and restored in 1985

On February 27, 1829, Travis passed his law examination and received permission to legally practice. He borrowed $55.37 to open a law office.[12] as well as $90 earlier in the year to help pay for the "Herald".[13] Now in debt and with no practical income, he took in three boarding students. To help Rosanna with the workload, he purchased two slaves. Maintaining the slaves increased his expenses, pushing Travis into further debt.

In 1829, the "Herald" declined, hardly getting out six issues in the fall when it was intended to be published weekly. It went from a paper to a two-sided sheet. Still, no one had replied to help Travis with publishing, and by the end of the year, the "Herald" had gone out of print.

With hardly any law business coming in, the debts continued to mount. The earlier loans had never been paid, and more came - $192.40 in May 1829, $50.12 in June, and $50.00 in July.[14] His law practice failed to attract any significant clients as men like Dellet continued to be trusted more than Travis. By the end of his law practice in Claiborne, he had only six cases, taking in less than $4.00 total. By the spring of 1831, his debt was $834.[15]

Dellet, along with others Travis owed money to, had no choice but to file suit for the debts to be repaid. At one point during the suit, Travis filed a plea that the case be dismissed on the grounds of infancy (he was still considered a minor in many parts of Alabama). Dellet responded by forcing Travis to stand, yelling at the courtroom "Gentlemen, I make 'proofest' of this infant!".[16] Travis stood humiliated in a courtroom roaring with laughter. The clerk issued orders for his arrest on March 31, 1831.[17]

At some point during his time in Claiborne, Travis had heard stories of Texas, then an outlying state in the Republic of Mexico. In Texas, there was a massive amount of land speculation, immigration, and settlers coming in from the United States and Europe. There was also a strong demand for lawyers to deal with the influx of immigrants and land dealings. Quickly, he made the decision to go to Texas. He promised Rosanna (now pregnant with a second child) to make enough there to pay back his debts. Rosanna trusted him to eventually return or send for her and the family. Travis managed to avoid arrest and leave for Texas.

Texas and the Alamo command[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Battle of the Alamo.
Birth/Death dates plaque at Alamo

In May 1831, upon his arrival in Mexican Texas, a part of northern Mexico at the time, Travis purchased land from Stephen F. Austin, who appointed him consul from the United States.[18] He set up a law practice in Anahuac and helped start a militia to oppose Mexican rule.[19] He subsequently became a pivotal figure in the Anahuac Disturbances and was imprisoned for his involvement.[18][20]

William B. Travis, painted by Henry Arthur McArdle, years after Travis's death, using a stand-in as a model.

Travis was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel of the Legion of Cavalry and became the chief recruiting officer for a new regular Texan army.[18] Governor Henry Smith ordered Travis to raise a company of professional soldiers to reinforce the Texans under James C. Neill at the Alamo Mission in San Antonio.[21] Travis considered disobeying his orders, writing to Smith: "I am willing, nay anxious, to go to the defense of Bexar, but sir, I am unwilling to risk my reputation ... by going off into the enemy's country with such little means, so few men, and with them so badly equipped."[22] James Bowie arrived at the Alamo with 30 men on January 19, 1836.[21] On February 3, Travis arrived in San Antonio with eighteen regulars as reinforcements. A compromise was reached between Bowie and Travis for command of the Alamo, with Bowie in command of the volunteers and Travis in command of the regulars.[20] When Bowie's health began to fail, it became irrelevant, and Travis became the official commander of the Alamo garrison.[21] On March 6, 1836, following a thirteen-day siege, Santa Anna ordered the assault on the Alamo during the predawn hours. Travis died fighting to the end, and his remains were burned along with the other Alamo defenders.[21]

Travis's "Victory or Death" letter from the Alamo[edit]

For more details on this topic, see To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World.
Plaque in front of the Alamo

On February 24, 1836, during Santa Anna's siege of the Alamo, Travis wrote a letter addressed "To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World":

Fellow citizens and compatriots;
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country. VICTORY or DEATH.
William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. Comdt.
P.S. The Lord is on our side. When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn. We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels and got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.
Travis

He gave this letter to courier John William Smith to deliver. The envelope that contained the letter was labeled "VICTORY or DEATH".[22] The letter, while unable to bring aid to the garrison at the Alamo, did much to motivate the Texian army and helped to rally support in America for the cause of Texan independence. It also cemented Travis's status as a hero of the Texas Revolution.

Family[edit]

Travis married one of his former students, 16-year-old Rosanna Cato (1812–1848), on October 26, 1828. The couple stayed in Claiborne and had a son, Charles Edward, in 1829 and a daughter, Susan, in 1831.[23] They were officially divorced by the Marion County courts on January 9, 1836, by Act no. 115. Rosanna married Samuel G. Cloud in Monroeville, Alabama, on February 14, 1836. However, they both died of Yellow Fever during an epidemic which afflicted the state in 1848.

Charles Edward Travis (1829–1860) was raised by his mother and her second husband. He won a seat in the Texas legislature in 1853. In 1855, he enlisted in the United States Army as a captain in a cavalry regiment (which was later renamed the 5th Cavalry Regiment (United States) commanded by Albert Sidney Johnston) but was discharged in May 1856 for "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman " following an allegation that he had cheated at cards.[24] He appealed the decision to no avail. He then turned to studying law, earning a degree from Baylor University in 1859. He died of consumption (tuberculosis) within a year and is buried beside his sister.[25][26]

Susan Isabella Travis was born in 1831, after Travis had departed for Texas. Although her paternity has been questioned, Travis did name her as his daughter in his will. In 1850, she married a planter from Chapell Hill,[27] and their son was William Barret Grissett.[28]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ McKeehan, Wallace L. "Gonzales Alamo Relief Defenders". Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas. Texas A&M University. Retrieved January 23, 2009. 
  2. ^ Davis 1998, p. 262.
  3. ^ Davis, William, "Three Roads to the Alamo" 1998, pg. 189
  4. ^ Davis, pg. 190
  5. ^ Alabama Territory. A List of Taxable Property Taken in the County of Conecuh
  6. ^ Riley, B.F., Makers and Romance of Alabama History, 1951, pg. 98
  7. ^ William Travis Autobiography, 1833. There is no mention that Travis was given a position at the same academy. As McCurdy's academy opened when Travis was 16 and he changed schools to one in Monroe County at 16, it can be assumed that he went there, as well as taught there.
  8. ^ Davis, pg. 193
  9. ^ McMillan Papers; Letford, "Story of William B. Travis". There is no firm evidence Travis studied under Dellet, though members of his family claimed so as well as a former probate judge of Monroe County
  10. ^ Travis Family Bible. Travis wrote in his own handwriting that Charlie was born in 1828, though this has been modified in someone else's handwriting to say 1829. This was a common practice in the 18th and 19th centuries to purify marriages and family bibles from children being born before a wedding or before nine months had passed.
  11. ^ Claiborne Herald, February 27, 1829
  12. ^ Davis, pg. 199
  13. ^ Davis, pg. 90
  14. ^ Davis, pg. 201
  15. ^ Davis, pg. 203
  16. ^ Davis, pg. 204
  17. ^ Davis, pg. 205
  18. ^ a b c Curtis, Gregory (January 1986). "The First Texas". Texas Monthly: 26, 88–89. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 
  19. ^ "The Turtle Bay Resolutions". Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 
  20. ^ a b Davis 1966, p. xiv.
  21. ^ a b c d McDonald, Archie P. "William Barret Travis". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 
  22. ^ a b Hardin 1994, p. 117.
  23. ^ Davis 1966, p. xii.
  24. ^ Cutrer, Thomas W. "Charles Edward Travis". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Chappell Hill, TX". Texas Escapes. Blueprints For Travel, LLC. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 
  26. ^ Charles Edward Travis at Find a Grave
  27. ^ Susanna Isabella Travis Grissett at Find a Grave
  28. ^ William Barret Grissett at Find a Grave

Bibliography[edit]

  • Davis, Robert E. (1966). The Diary of William Barret Travis. Waco, Tx: Texian Press. OCLC 732686506. 
  • Davis, William C. (1998). Three Roads to the Alamo. New York, NY: HarperCollins World. ISBN 9780060173340. 
  • Hardin, Stephen L. (1994). Texian Iliad. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292730861. 
  • Meischen, Betty Smith (2003). Trails West: Book II the Trail to San Jacinto. New York, NY: Writer's Showcase. ISBN 9780595258970. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]